Listening is an active first step to taking fuller action.
This blog is reprinted with permission. Read the original post here.
October is National Depression and Mental Health Screening month.
There’s a lot of frenetic energy right now.
A pandemic, followed by a global racial justice uprising, has accelerated the demand for change on almost every level: individually, institutionally and structurally.
Below, we’ve answered the top three diversity, equity and inclusion concerns that our partners at AllVoices (an employee feedback platform) have heard from many companies in this challenging moment.
A lot of us are feeling the intense need to quickly “jump into action” right now after such an intense collective awakening.
So, we wanted to take a quick moment to remind ourselves that, while taking action can be a good thing, we often forget that listening, with the intention of real follow-up, actually is, indeed, action and an important one.
Listening can feel passive, but if you do it right, it can actually be the most impactful place to start when it comes to creating lasting change. The truth is, we owe it to our employees to use this momentum to make sure we’re taking care of them, first.
So instead of rushing into action, be willing to take a beat and listen to your team, and then (and this is the really important part) be willing to respond accordingly.
After all, there’s a real lack of trust across difference, and the reason people are putting so much pressure on this moment is because there’s fear that if we don’t do it now, it might not ever get done. Things are likely to go back to “business as usual.”
So with that in mind, here are a few more guidelines for moving through turbulent times—equitably and inclusively.
1. What do we do when diverse representation is not prioritized in our company?
Set clear goals for when you are ready to hire. For instance, what kind of representation are you reaching for and why? Take some time to truly map this out. Also, real change requires systems-level investments. If there isn’t an equitable and inclusive structure behind the way we ask questions in interviews or decide who is a “good fit,” we’ll most likely keep ending up with the same results (regardless of how much we try to mitigate bias amongst the hiring committee).
Be a better partner. When a lot of companies seek to recruit diverse candidates, they often start by trying to develop partnerships with identity-specific talent funnels, like historically Black colleges and universities, for instance. But often, the company’s relationship with that entity isn’t really a two-way street. They have the people you need but what are you offering them? Black engineers, for instance, are in high demand. Why should they tell them to go work for you?
Rather than thinking you’ve “checked the box” by just reaching out to these partners, consider treating it like a relationship that you’re investing in. How can you provide value to that organization? Can you help with resume-building, career development or something else? Can you take time to listen to what their talent pool wants and needs out of an employer? A little bit of energy spent towards building relationships with talent funnel partners can go a long way.
Be transparent about your representation goals. When someone is making a decision about whether or not to come work for your company, and they’re saying, “There’s not enough representation,” it’s worth asking yourself the question: What would increasing “representation” mean to them? What can it look like, even if you can’t immediately fix the problem of not having a more diverse team?
For some folks, the question of representation actually stems from a question of whether their presence and input are truly valued. For instance, if someone sees a lack of diverse representation amongst senior leaders, they might be thinking, “I’m worried that means you don’t value perspectives like mine or that there’s no room to grow.”
And while you may not be able to immediately fix your leadership representation problem, what you can do is start to create assurance for those employees and allay their concerns by demonstrating that you’re investing in them.
In the meantime, consider defining clear pathways for growth. Give people the sponsorship and skills development to get there. Rather than taking people’s concerns at face value and throwing your hands up because you can’t make the changes they are seeking right in this moment, dig a bit deeper to find out how you can start to create a culture that helps those people feel like they belong. (And follow through.)
2. What do we do about overt discrimination or exclusion?
You’ll notice a theme here: communication and transparency are absolutely key in creating cultures of diversity, equity and inclusion.
When you notice discrimination or exclusion happening in your workplace, it means those behaviors are in some way allowed to happen.
To change that reality, clear guidelines must be put in place.
Consider digging into those specific behaviors. Make it clear to team members which behaviors are okay, and which are not—and make it crystal clear what happens when people say or do those things in your organization.
So yes, this means that in your employee handbook, you’re actually specifying what “discrimination” means. Spelling it out. Oftentimes, the gray area is where injustices are allowed to exist.
And finally, a missed moment for us is the opportunity to go beyond discrimination, to also specify the behaviors that help people feel seen, understood and valued. While energy must be paid towards specifying what not to do, equal parts can be paid towards specifying what to do.
3. What can we do about pay inequity?
Do a pay audit.
The truth is: you don’t know what you don’t know. Do it across demographics and be transparent about the process.
A lot of companies don’t want to do this because they don’t want to then be on the hook for fixing things. In reality, what we’ve often found is that, for many companies, the gap isn’t insurmountable, and sometimes it’s not even actually there. However, without transparency, it’s natural for people to make assumptions about fairness because they don’t have enough information. We know, but they don’t necessarily know.
Scared to do a pay equity analysis?
Be up front about what you’d do if you found pay inequity, and then be transparent about how long it’s going to take. Then, invest energy in putting forth a plan to fix it. You may not be able to get everyone leveled appropriately overnight but be willing to work towards it as aggressively as you can and help set expectations.
Lastly, for performance-based pay increases, make sure the way that you assess performance has been designed to mitigate bias and foster inclusivity and fairness.
If you haven’t gotten it by now…
By listening, being transparent, consistent and following through with collectively informed action (especially in turbulent times), companies can use this moment as an opportunity to rebuild (or build for the first time) trust in a powerful way.
Kellie Wagner is founder and CEO of Collective, a writer and a champion for inclusion and diversity in the workplace and mental health awareness.